After data was released by an Australian think tank, TikTok has admitted to restricting several LGBTQ+-focused hashtags on the app from several regions and in several languages.
The report was released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a non-partisan think tank. In it, it was found that TikTok censored the one-word hashtags “gay,” “lesbian,” and “transgender” in Estonian, Bosnian, Arabic, and Russian; “transitioning” in Arabic; and specific phrases like “I am a gay/lesbian” in Russian. These restricted hashtags were based on the language used and were blocked regardless of region.
“TikTok users posting videos with these hashtags are given the impression their posts are just as searchable as posts by other users, but in fact they aren’t,” reads the report. “In practice, most of these hashtags are categorised in TikTok’s code in the same way that terrorist groups, illicit substances and swear words are treated on the platform. On some occasions, hashtags are categorised as non-existent, when in fact they’re tagged on videos across the platform.”
The social media app restricted the content under what’s called a “shadowban,” or a quiet form of censorship where creators aren’t often aware they’ve been blocked from being seen.
According to a statement by a TikTok representative, the shadowbans were done in an attempt to provide “locally sensitive” moderation on the app, but that it went a bit too far. While some terms were “restricted due to relevant local laws,” others were shadowbanned because they were “used when looking for pornographic content,” according to the spokesperson. The company’s representative reiterated the idea that TikTok is “deeply committed to inclusivity” and that some terms were “incorrectly moderated.”
“We are currently conducting a review of those terms that were moderated in error and will look for ways to improve our processes to avoid similar issues in the future,” noted the spokesperson. “In addition, we want to be crystal clear that TikTok strongly supports our LGBTQ creators around the world and is proud that LGBTQ content is among the most popular category on the platform with billions of views.”